OPINION

The aim of airspace violations

It has become Ankara’s standard policy to raise the temperature in bilateral relations on the eve of significant negotiations so as to pressure Greece and win the greatest possible concessions. This time, however, it’s not just the talks on the Cyprus dispute and the Greek-Turkish dialogue: The day of reckoning as regards Cyprus’s accession is near. Not surprisingly, signs that Turkey intends to create tension are coming thick and fast. Violations of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets – recently intensified because of Turkey’s Sea Wolf 2002 military maneuvers – should be seen in this light. Earlier this week, two Turkish fighter jets flew over the airport of the southeastern island of Rhodes in the Dodecanese archipelago. Violations in the first quarter of 2002 have tripled in relation to the first quarter of the previous year. Turkey is expected to set a new record this year. Military officials point out that the problem is not only a quantitative one; it is also a qualitative one. What is most alarming is that Turkey’s objectives have changed. In the past, violations aimed, on the one hand, at challenging the 10-mile zone of Greece’s airspace and, on the other, Athens’s administrative right – which was granted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – to monitor the Flight Information Region (FIR) over the eastern Aegean Sea. By examining the trajectory of Turkey’s military aircraft, Greece’s Air Force has concluded that these consist of exercises for a massive surprise air strike whose aim is to cut the eastern Aegean Islands off from the mainland. Ankara has traditionally used coercive diplomacy to force Athens into bargaining the status of the Aegean. This time, Ankara is warning the EU that allowing Cyprus into the Union will mean trouble for Europe. Athens is trying to deter a military challenge by keeping its cool. But future developments will not depend on Athens alone.